The Atlantic, “When Did Group Pictures Become ‘Selfies’?”

March 25, 2014

Adrienne LaFrance, “When Did Group Pictures Become ‘Selfies’?” (The Atlantic, Mar. 25, 2014)

What is happening to the selfie?

At first glance, it seems it may be turning into what linguist Ben Zimmer calls an “anachronym,” a word or phrase that remains in usage even as behaviors change.

“The accumulated cultural knowledge of past technologies ends up powerfully shaping the way we talk about new technologies,” Zimmer told me. “Think about the terms that we use for telephones, for instance. We still talk about ‘dialing.’ And we talk about ‘taping’ something even if it’s on the DVR. Sometimes what we’re left with is language that’s sort of obsolete.” […]

“Terms that relate to communication technology may start off as being rather technical and obscure,” Zimmer said. “They become mainstream because people need a term to refer to the things we’re doing, so they get clipped or shortened to various diminutive forms.” […]

“You can’t really dictate these things,” Zimmer said. “There can be a lot of flux early-on, a lot of competing usage. But when people have already fixed on one particular term, it’s hard to displace it with something else. And so that’s why we sometimes get older or more anachronistic terms sticking around. Then you have the conservative forces of language, which serve to create a sort of inertia around those terms until the next wave.”

Read the rest here.

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